New York. - As political turmoil intensifies, more than 500 Burundian women are working as community peace mediators, actively helping to avert over 5,000 conflicts, UN WOMEN reported as the crisis in Burundi protracts. "It is crucial to continue strengthening the capacities and keep supporting women mediators and all stakeholders committed to peace," said UN Women Representative in Burundi, Jeremie Delage. "Women play a lead role in early warning and conflict prevention. Women are at the core of conflict resolution."
Between 1993 and 2005, the civil war in Burundi cost approximately 300,000 lives and left hundreds of thousands displaced. In 2015, strife erupted once again.
The conflict stirs up painful memories for 59-year-old Rose Nyandwi, who spoke with UN WOMEN. In 1972, she dropped out of school after her father was killed. Decades later, in 1993, she lost her husband during the Civil War. But she did not let loss consume her.
The widowed mother of eight children managed to restore balance, a sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging to her community through her work with women’s organizations. Today, Ms. Nyandwi is a mediator in the southern province of Makamba with the Women Network for Peace and Dialogue. Since January 2015, the UN Women-supported organization has worked hand-in-hand with national authorities and civil society organizations and communities to prevent violence and conflict.
"Victims of conflict trust us to solve their problems in an effective and respectful manner," said Ms. Nyandwi to UN WOMEN. "Our strategy is to build partnerships, to avoid the community thinking we are acting on our own."
The network consists of 534 mediators working across all municipalities in Burundi (129 in total). By their count, women mediators have addressed over 5,000 conflicts at the local level in 2015. They also initiated dialogues in 17 provinces with political actors, security forces and civil society.
This network was developed in light of the ongoing need for reconciliation, post-civil war. Recently, in the lead-up to the 2015 elections, the incumbent President’s run for a third term - a move contested as unconstitutional by the opposition - sparked a new political and security crisis. Since late April 2015, tensions between the Government and opposition have led to sporadic violence between security forces and protesters in the capital, Bujumbura. This has made the work of women mediators all the more crucial.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently raised alarm bells over "new and extremely disturbing patterns of human rights violations". More than 230,000 people have left the country in the last year. Despite calls for internationally mediated dialogue between the Government and the opposition, there has been little progress.
In this tense political context, women mediators have been tackling familial, social and land-related conflicts at the community level, which can easily be politicized and risk destabilizing communities. They have gained the confidence and practical know-how to tackle political and electoral conflicts and increasingly dealt with sensitive issues. The women diffuse tensions, for example, by mediating between security forces and protesters, and advocate for the release of demonstrators and political prisoners.
The mediators promote non-violence and dialogue, and counter rumours and exaggerated fears with verifiable information. This prevents widespread panic, heightened in Burundi since independent media outlets were shut down in May 2015.